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Growth a key component of Woodbury Days Ambassador Program

Members of Woodbury's 2011 royal family greet parade-goers in front of the Woodbury Days parade float's new sign. Photo courtesy of Terri Stiegauf. Submitted photo1 / 3
Char Rose was crowned as the first Miss Woodbury in 1980 in the Ojibway Park Bandshell. Her sponsors were the Woodbury Jaycees. Photo from Facebook group Woodbury Ambassadors-- Past and Present. 2 / 3
The Woodbury Days parade float volunteers built in 1990 won two awards at metro parades that summer. Although it has required the occasionaly tune-up throughout the years, the float still carries Woodbury's royal family through the parade season. Image courtesy of Tim Schenk. 3 / 3

Abby Fischer recalls looking up to Miss Woodbury contenders as a child.

As friends and neighbors ran for a spot among the Woodbury Days Ambassadors, Fischer hoped to one day offer young women the same inspiration she gleaned from past finalists.

Last year, she got the opportunity to do just that when she was crowned Miss Woodbury 2016-2017.

"It was everything I wanted it to be," she said. "It's an opportunity to use your title and instill confidence in other people."

Following her coronation last summer, Fischer joined a family of Woodbury royalty that spans more than three decades.

RELATED: Volunteers rally behind Woodbury's annual get together

The Woodbury Days Ambassadors program crowned the first Miss Woodbury in 1980.

At the time, the event functioned as a pageant with a single winner.

Today, the program enlists a "family" of ambassadors from elementary students to people over 50 and serves as an educational opportunity focused on volunteerism and community outreach.

"It's a well-rounded program," said director Terri Steigauf. "I think it does a lot of good for both the younger girls and the older girls."

For Steigauf, Woodbury's royal family has often overlapped her own family.

She and her three daughters have each earned a rank among Woodbury's royal family.

Reigning Miss Woodbury Abby Fischer made an appearance on the Woodbury Days float in the September Inver Grove Heights parade.

As applications file in, Steigauf said she looks forward to witnessing candidates' personal growth.

"It's always exciting to see how the girls are going to change through the next month," she said. "It's always our busiest month, it's when they get to meet and greet the most people in that short period of time."

Although ambassadors are crowned during Woodbury Days at the end of August, their work continues throughout the year.

Sherry Simpson, a 22-year Woodbury resident and the 2016-2017 Senior Queen, said she has enjoyed appearances on the Woodbury Day parade float volunteers crafted in 1990.

"I love the faces of the young children when we're in parades, the smile on their face," she said. "I love blowing them kisses, and they blow kisses back. I get a little emotional when that happens."

Volunteer work also tops the list of ambassador's responsibilities.

Each year, their duties range from running in a fundraising marathon with Relay for Life to packing food with Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit that ships food around the world to children experiencing hunger.

"I think it got me more excited about volunteering not only during my year, but after my year," said Jeana Steigauf, Miss Woodbury 2009-2010. "It's something that really spoke to me and that I found really gratifying."

Ambassadors also make appearances at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new businesses.

Tim Schenk, who served as Woodbury Days vice president for 15 years, said this type of outreach offers mutual benefits: businesses generate more "fanfare," and the girls hone their people skills and build confidence.

"We get story after story year after year about how much growth each of the girls gain over the course of a year," he said. "A lot of times we'll have a candidate who's very shy or doesn't have a lot of contact with people. As we interact with other businesses, you're almost forced to be more social. It's incredible to see people come out of their shell and have more confidence and poise."

Fischer said the communication skills she gained during her reign apply to her studies as a junior psychology and sociology major at Concordia College in Moorhead.

"It's given me the confidence to step up and speak up when I want to make a change and suggest something," she said. "I used to be really hesitant to do that. Learning that everyone's important and everyone's voice should be heard has helped me speak up."